Greece: domestic political clash at the expense of European elections

Greece: domestic political clash at the expense of European elections
Photo: БГНЕС

One photo and one documentary set on fire the political scene in Athens on the eve of the 26 May elections, which are a “double” in Greece – for the European Parliament, as well as for local government (municipalities, districts).

The photograph shows how prime minister Alexis Tsipras enjoys his vacation on board the yacht of a shipping tycoon just several days after the devastating fire in July 2018, a few miles from Athens, in the village of Mati, which caused the death of one hundred and one people.

Previously, Sky TV broadcast a documentary about the same fire, in which firefighters’ dialogues documented the failure of coordination and the lack of serious organization by the state firefighting services.The heart-brеaking calls to the rescuers of the helpless people trapped by the flames sparked public shock and the opposition furiously attacked the government, accusing it of helplessness.

Although the government won the confidence vote, the tension did not calm down and everything indicates that Greece is heading to the polls on 26 May in a state of extreme polarization

In connection with Alexis Tsipras’s cruise, the opposition, headed by the center-right New Democracy of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, highlighted the discrepancy between words and deeds of the prime minister. Tsipras was accused that while declaring himself to be on the side of the “majority”, he is evidently enjoying the luxurious vacation on the super expensive yacht.

The political temperature soared, but the government of Tsipras defeated a vote of no-confidence in parliament initiated by Mitsotakis against deputy minister of Health Pavlos Polakis for inappropriate behavior towards a diabled candidate for EuroMP (MEP) from New Democracy.

Although the government won the confidence vote, the tension did not calm down and everything indicates that Greece is heading to the polls on 26 May in a state of extreme polarization.

All sociological polls show an advantage for New Democracy varying between 2.5 and 9.5 percent, and Kiriakos Mitsotakis declared that if his party wins the vote, Alexis Tsipras will have to call parliamentary elections because he will have no political legitimacy to take decisions.

European and American press predicts electoral loss for the current prime minister. The influential center-right German newspaper FAZ even wondered whether these elections would mark the beginning of the end of the political hegemony of Tsipras.

The prime minister has taken up the burden of the election campaign upon himself providing various allowances and subsidies, such as a 13th pension, a reduction of VAT in some sectors, an increase in non-taxable income and public sector appointments. He seems optimistic of not only reducing the gap predicted by the polls but even overcoming it.

Greece’s exit from memoranda (by the foreign investors) is Tsipras’s “heavy artillery” argument in the election campaign and he is trying to capitalize on it politically.
Nevertheless, citizens do not feel any particular difference to the better in their everyday lives, and Europeans are watching, without interfering so far, with suspicion at the aid packages announced by him.

In these elections in Greece, however, there is a very strong factor that can predestine the outcome, and this is the Prespa agreement

For its part, New Democracy, as well as the centrist Movement for Change (former PASOK), have initiated a campaign to demythologize the leadership profile of Tsipras, trying to expose his hypocritical double-standards over many issues and openly calling him “a liar.”

In these elections in Greece, however, there is a very strong factor that can predestine the outcome, and this is the Prespa agreement, which was signed in June 2018 by Tsipras and Zoran Zaev. The agreement was welcomed by the entire international community, but a large, perhaps the bigger part, of Greek society perceived it as a betrayal. Many Greeks, especially in Northern Greece, are convinced that Tsipras had “sold” the national interest, accepting the neighboring state to be called “Macedonia,” even though with the prefix “Northern”, and the language and nationality to be called “Macedonian.”

The polls so far show that Alexis Tsipras and his party seem to be “sinking” in Northern Greece mainly (Thessaloniki, etc.), but also in other regions, as a result of this disapproval from which Mitsotakis intends to take advantage at the election. However, this is not certain because at least part of this discontent is also claimed by the neo-fascist “Golden Dawn”, which is believed to come out stronger from this election.

With the election day – May 26 – approaching, the pre-election atmosphere is electrified by “under the waist” strikes by both leaders, with a rhetoric that often goes beyond the political decency. This is causing discontent among a part of the public opinion, which had hoped for a debate of high political culture. But the clash is ruthless because the two “gladiators” have bet everything.

For the Greeks these elections are more of a domestic political clash than having a European flavor

A loss by Tsipras with a great margin will delegitimize him politically until October when the constitutional mandate of his government expires. This will be a very heavy wound and a very difficult one to heal with the hope of defeating Mitsotakis in the parliamentary elections, whenever they take place in the period until the autumn.

However, if Tsipras wins the European elections even by a single vote, the leadership position of Kiriakos Mitsotakis in the New Democracy party becomes insecure. It would seem that he is not able to defeat Tsipras, and then his party will enter into an introverted orbit, perhaps in search of a new leader.

In other words, for the Greeks these elections are more of a domestic political clash than having a European flavor. In any case, their outcome will outline political events to come, will be a precursor and perhaps a catalyst for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

And all this happens against the background of clustering over the Aegean Sea of clouds of threats by Turkey to revise the rules set by international treaties on the Greek islands and to drill in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus. This even raises serious concerns about a “hot incident”.

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